OCTOBER 8, 2012

Studying Abroad: Emily Anne Gibson outlines the reasons why leaving your home university and traveling to another country is a very good idea
Theater Mania, October 8, 2012

Emily Gibson"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind." -- Seneca

A little less than two weeks ago, I took a flight from Newark to London and started my study abroad adventure. I have the incredible opportunity to be studying at Oxford, as a member of St. Catherine's College. As I write this at my desk, I am overlooking the College quad and can see straight into the windows of the library across the walkway. It's been a crazy time, getting here and getting settled, but I'm finally ready to start hitting the books. (In fact, there is a stack sitting next to me, demanding my attention right now!)

Studying abroad can be difficult, particularly if you are in a conservatory program, or your university is strict about what courses you must take. I think, however, that even if you need to fight the system, you should study abroad while in school. Anything you feel you might lose is regained ten-fold by what you will gain. Some seem to think that studying abroad is "not for everyone," and I'd like to argue against that.

Excuse: I took a foreign language, but I'm nowhere near fluent.
Rebuttal: You will be after a few months of immersion! Although I can't say anything from personal experience, I have heard from many others that taking that (terrifying) leap into another language makes you a much better speaker. If the language barrier is too great and too intimidating, there are plenty of English-speaking options around the world.

Excuse: I'm kind of shy and I don't make friends easily.
Rebuttal: Fear of loneliness is totally normal. The truth is, it's tough. It's like being a freshman again, when you are surrounded by people but you don't know any of them. But it isn't that bad. Join clubs and societies, talk to your neighbors at dinner, spend some time with your roommate. Whether big or small, the place you go to study will have other students who are either coming to college for the first time or studying abroad just like you. You aren't alone, if you don't want to be alone.

Excuse: Okay, but I'm a theater major. I can't just leave my department for half a season!
Rebuttal: Yes, you can. They managed before you and they'll manage after. If you've got a school that really cares about shaping you as an individual and an artist, they will find a way to let you go abroad. I'm studying abroad in the fall specifically because my big production this year at Carnegie Mellon is in the spring semester. And although many of the meetings and design launches are happening while I'm away, the internet is a useful tool in maintaining connection with the other members of the creative team. (The time difference is a bit tricky, but we've all made late-night sacrifices to the gods of theater.)

Excuse: All right, that all sounds fine. But I came to my school because I think they are the best school for me. Why would I leave my program, even if it's just for one semester?
Rebuttal: I love Carnegie Mellon, and I love the School of Drama. Studying abroad doesn't mean you think any less of your home institution. The fact is that every university is different – and a university in another country is really different! You should go abroad because you will gain not only a broader sense of the world that you live in, but because you'll get to learn in a new environment in ways that are unlike what you've become so used to at your home university.

As theater artists, we strive to communicate with each other and with our audiences. I think that travel, that opportunities like studying abroad, are extremely important in forming open-minded and experienced artists. It reminds you that the world does not revolve around your school, or your program, and it shows you new ways to communicate that you may never have considered.

What do you think? Why is studying abroad important to you?